An adult Web site operation that used illegal spam to drive customers to its site has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that the spam was deceptive and unfair and violates federal law. The settlement will bar the operation from using or hiring affiliates to send deceptive spam and require that they comply with the CAN-SPAM Act, which bars deceptive subject lines and return addresses, and requires a warning on spam that is sexually explicit.
According to the FTC complaint, Sobonito Investments, Ltd. used “affiliates” to advertise its Web sites and induce consumers to purchase the adult content. The affiliates sent spam with subject lines such as “Payment declined,” and “I thought you called” to disguise the contents of the spam. When consumers opened the e-mail messages, they were subjected to sexually explicit solicitations to visit the defendant’s adult-oriented Web sites. Because of the deceptive subject lines, consumers had no reason to expect to see such material. In some cases, consumers may have opened the e-mails in their offices, in violation of company policies. In other cases, children may have been exposed to inappropriate adult-oriented material, the FTC complaint noted. In addition, the affiliates used false header information, identifying innocent third parties, as the sender of the spam. Those innocent third parties risked damage to their computer systems when angry victims of the original spam responded to them. Consumers forwarded tens of thousands of the affiliates’ spam to the FTC’s spam database at firstname.lastname@example.org. The agency charged that the practices were unfair and deceptive in violation of federal law.
The settlement with Sobonito Investments, Ltd. bars it and its agents, including affiliates, from using misleading subject lines in e-mail messages, bars the use of false or misleading headers, and bars them from violating or assisting others to violate the CAN-SPAM Act, including its provision that requires sexually oriented spam to carry the words “SEXUALLY-EXPLICIT: ” in the subject line. The settlement also contains standard reporting and record keeping provisions to allow the FTC to monitor compliance.
Sobonito is incorporated in Cyprus.
NOTE: Stipulated final judgments are for settlement purposes only and do not constitute an admission by the defendant of a law violation. Consent judgments have the force of law when signed by the judge.
Copies of the complaint and stipulated final judgment and order are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
Claudia Bourne Farrell
Office of Public Affairs
(FTC File. No. 032-3206)